Nelson Mandela reminds me very much of Gandhi. Both grew up rather privileged members of an indigenous population living under colonial rule. Gandhi was an Indian under British rule. Mandela was a black under Apartheid rule in Sud Afrika (South Afrika) where the primarily Dutch Boer descendants ruled. South Africa had long been a colony handed back and forth between empires as a key spot to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific/Indian Oceans. While the Suez Canal diminished this role, diamonds and its location kept it a profitable colony.
Both Mandela and Gandhi became attorneys and worked for the colonial powers. They both gave up these positions and took radical stances with communists and revolutionary organizations. However, both rose above the natural violence of revolution to take the long path, the better path, of peaceful resistance. As a result, both suffered great privations and long prison sentences. In the end, their strength of character won out. They both became legendary leaders, peace makers and fathers of vitally changed countries.
Mandela was an athlete and a great sports fan. How many know that? He forgave his jailors, he impressed fellow inmates, many of which were violent criminals with his wisdom. He was a normal person that could accomplish those things. How many of us, jailed innocently for 27 years would be friends with our guards and violent convicts?
Still, it is not these achievements that raise them in my estimation, it is their flaws. They made mistakes. Gandhi tried to keep India together but could not. Violence between Hindus and Muslims caused a separation with Muslims creating Pakistan and Hindus staying in India. The resulting shift in population caused massive violence and permanent foes. Other sectarian and separatist violence continues and India has yet to pull itself out of lesser developed status and a strict caste system.
Similarly, while Mandela did great things, he also negotiated the Lockerbie Air Bombing terrorist’s release from Britain to Libya. He implemented many reforms but most black South Africans remain in poverty and segregated. I am sure like all human beings, both Gandhi and Mandela suffered from anger, greed, misjudgments, doubt and carnal desires. It is because they faced these and made such a dramatic difference at great cost to themselves and their lives that I believe they are great.
As we honor Nelson Mandela upon his death, it is natural to say only good things about him. As we move on, I think we honor him more by realizing he was a flawed man just like the rest of us who accomplished great things. I think it is more impressive for ordinary men to achieve than for us to believe somehow they were saints or started with more than us, had more character. No. They simply did more with what we all start with – simple humanity, vices and all.
None of us have excuses. These men were not saints, they were sinners like the rest of us. They were better because they overcame obstacles that would leave many of us whining and feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to remember that fact as much as the good they accomplished.
by Michael Bradley